Each generation grows up with its own concensus of pop-culture artifacts that spell the impending Festive season. Anybody who came of age between 1990 and 2008-ish – regardless of gender, race or social class – will be able to tell you that Christmas didn’t begin until the first broadcast of the Coca Cola advert with the convoy of illuminated lorries and their unneccesary carbon footprint.
That wore thin after Youtube came out and let people watch adverts any time they wanted, and userpers to its throne came thick and fast; the announcement of each year’s candidate for alternative Christmas Number One – Rage Against the Machine did it, Simon Cowell didn’t give a shit, and the concept became a dead horse for serious “Musos” to flog each year – Elf popping up on Channel 4’s program schedule one Sunday; Starbucks turning people’s misspelt-name related angst into childish wonderment just by making their cups red, like reverse-matadors.
For me though, Chritmas begins when I walk past a Greggs – caution in my step due to the early-November sludge of damp leaves – and smell that familiar scent of the Festive Bake; a sensory trigger as salient as hearing the opening strings to Spice Girls – 2 Become 1, or seeing some Daily Mail-reading shithead post a Facebook status about Muslims trying to ban tinsel, or make Figgy Pudding halal.
Its flavour pallate – Chicken and Bacon with stuffing (if you’re lucky), sage and cranberry sauce – isn’t particularly Christmassy; take the cranberries out and you’ve got a standard Fray Bentos pie which you can attempt to enjoy at any time of the year, as long as you’ve got a decent tin-opener.
But the Festive Bake is more than the sum of its parts – the list of ingredients doesn’t take into account all the times you’ve got one (two) on the way to the German Market – just to tide you over, or the Pavlovian conditioning which makes you brush the crumbs off your scarf, even though you’ve stopped wearing one because you’ve remembered that scarfs make your beard itchy.
I tried to cheat this year – Buzzfeed would probably call it a “Life Hack” – by buying Festive Bakes in bulk from Iceland and keeping them in the freezer so I could eat them at regular intervals throughout the year, and each attempt left me disappointed. Maybe it was due to my inferior oven or the fact that eating Sage and Cranberry sauce while watching the World Cup group stages feels a bit jarring, but the romance just wasn’t there.